Growing attached to apps and services is something we have all done as iOS users with Sparrow being a particular sore point. Difficulties can arise when developers attempt to improve upon their previous efforts in the name of innovation and improvement; however, as with Skitch, such plans aren’t so easily fulfilled. Therefore, upon hearing my favourite app of 2012 was being redeveloped, I listened with more than a little trepidation. As it turns out, the team has released a brand new app filled with mind blowing audio and visuals, once again taking it to a new level.
Again based upon Nick Risinger’s stunning cosmological photography, Sky Guide is the new iteration of Sky Survey — the most beautiful app in the App Store, until now. Like Apple, Risinger knows even the best products can be improved, and with Sky Guide his team has brought a wealth of new material to give any astronomy enthusiast goosebumps. The idea may remain the same but there’s plenty of features to get excited about whilst scanning the Milky Way. Let’s take a look.
The unblemished night sky is one of the finest sights known to man; the trouble is that such a sight is becoming increasingly more difficult to witness. For the uninitiated, Nick Risinger’s 5,000 megapixel mosaic is made up of 37,000 photographs captured from some of the most remote locations on Earth and shows an incomprehensible array of celestial sights in unadulterated clarity. This extraordinary image forms the very fabric of Sky Guide and allows for an experience rarely had in the flesh.
Competing apps like Night Sky show a computer render of the Milky Way with thousands of banal, indistinguishable dots miserably representing the beautiful spiral galaxy’s components. Sky Guide incorporates the built-in gyroscope to accurately mirror the sky above with real images, thus enabling instant recognition of every planet and constellation on show. No data connection is required to traverse the skies and it is even possible to enter raw coordinates to mimic a specific area from anywhere in the world.
The core image behind Sky Guide is incredibly detailed and, due to its enormous size, is not shown at full resolution. Such intricacy shows thousands of real stars, some impossible to see in even moderately light pollution free areas; therefore, with a two-finger scroll gesture the panorama can be dimmed in order to match the sky above, enabling easier identification of the visible stars. That’s not where the beauty ends with this app, however.
Sky Guide, although perfectly capable of being a browsing app, is innately educational with complete disregard for degree of knowledge. Whereas its predecessor relied upon Wikipedia for content, this time multiple academic sources have been utilised to provide higher quality content. Much of the information has been handcrafted by a number of highly respected individuals giving an unparalleled level of expertise in this app category and a vast amount of educational resource.
To access a particular object’s information, simply tap on the panorama to uncover the necessary icon from where a slide-out panel appears. Rather than occupying only a portion of the screen as with Sky Survey, the new app utilises the full display to reveal beautiful, specific images alongside the relevant information and links. The interface itself is marvellous and allows focus to remain on the rich content featured with the sans-serif font set against deep black panels being a beautifully minimalist touch. After all, it is simplicity that makes for a great UI and this app has it in abundance.
The interface is exemplary throughout with a slimmed down menu and simplistic sharing options that allow selected areas of the panorama to be showcased on Twitter and Facebook. The main menu — accessible from the ubiquitous hamburger button — lists options for customising the panorama; however, compared to Sky Survey, the detail options are very few and far between. That said, Sky Guide is light years ahead of the former app in terms of general speed, fluidity and beauty making the trade-off more than worthwhile.
One major addition to this title is the presence of music. A collaboration with Mat Jarvis of Osmos HD fame has yielded a melodic soundtrack oozing with ethereal, dulcet tones. As with Osmos, I highly recommend using Sky Guide with a set of headphones to become fully immersed in the app; an experience I promise is like no other on iOS. Amazingly, it’s even possible to play the stars as each recognised star has a related note that sounds when tapped. Hotter stars emit a higher pitched sound compared to the deeper tones of their cooler counterparts. The integration of the special sounds and the overlying track is intriguingly brilliant with each extra sound seeming to fit perfectly every time.
Searching for specific objects is possible from the magnifying glass icon quietly displayed to the top right and allows for a manual search or object-specific browsing. Every app has small, seemingly irrelevant features that can help bring the entire project together of which Sky Guide has several, however, one in particular stands out. With each search result a time is given in which the constellation, galaxy, planet or star is due to rise then set. This not only means you know what to look for but also when to look upwards, such a feature exemplifies the thought that has been given throughout the app making it a real pleasure to use.
An App For Every Space Enthusiast
I love everything about this app if you couldn’t tell already, right down to the icon itself. Let’s face it, an icon has to be picturesque to warrant a spot on any homescreen and Sky Guide’s may be one of the best. However, that’s enough of the minutiae, the simple fact is this app is fantastic and a marked improvement upon its already near-perfect predecessor. Given the nature of the apps, owners of Sky Survey already have the predominant feature of Sky Guide; however, personally, between the far superior information bank and gorgeous soundtrack, I believe there is more than enough here to warrant taking a look.